Pre this season, Arsenal’s brand of technical, fluid, possession-based football saw them win over many new fans around the globe, whilst others looked on in envy as they continued to play the game the right way, forever seeking perfection. Playing their beautiful style, many concluded that Arsenal were second in Europe only to Barcelona – and the media somewhat cruelly branded them ‘Barca-lite’ – as they failed to win honours whilst the Spanish ‘real thing’ swept all before them.
However if Arsenal and their style of football were Barca-lite, does that now make north-London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, (Real) Madrid-lite?
At present no team in England attacks with more devastating pace and velocity than Spurs do. Whether the speedy onslaught occurs through a period of possession, or a swift counter-attack, Spurs remain a constant threat for 90-minutes – and more opposition are falling victim to this white whirlwind as the team grows into itself this season.
In Europe I’d wager currently there’s only one team better at attacking with such devastating speed, blitzing their opposition into submission – Real Madrid.
Los Blancos have turned this style of play into something of an art-form over the last couple of seasons. Whilst Barcelona have had the world purring with tiki-taka football, winning everything in sight, Real Madrid have kept pace (no pun intended) almost every step of the way, schooling teams in lessons of powerful, counter-attacking football. Why these lessons have been so successful, has been down to the pace and attacking talent at their disposal, mixed with a steely grit – a perfect balance for this style.
Madrid had already begun employing the counter-attacking style under the likes of Capello, Schuster and even Pellegrini who took it to another level. But Jose Mourinho has perfected it – even tweaking it, making the team more powerful and determined. But speed still kills.
Cristiano Ronaldo in particular, has been a goalscoring phenomenon since setting foot on Spanish shores. His fleet of foot and directness (in other words, his willingness) to head straight towards goal from his starting left-wing position has been used to great effect. Look over to the other side of the pitch, and it’s another speed merchant in Di Maria.
Now look at the Spurs squad, particularly in the wide areas, and you see pace almost everywhere. Both left and right-hand sides of the pitch are balanced and blessed with speed, in both attacking and defensive positions.
Whilst Madrid have the best European player in the world working their left-flank, Spurs have the new Welsh-wizard, Gareth Bale. Thankfully, the Bale bandwagon has died down recently but there’s no smoke without fire – and Bale was ablaze for a period of time last season. An awesome sight at full speed, when on-song he is almost unplayable. On the other wing, Spurs can call upon lightning-fast Aaron Lennon who can be any full-backs nightmare. Kyle Walker, a recent England debutant, has impressed greatly this season and is yet another player at Spurs who wouldn’t look out of place in a 1oo metres sprint.
But it’s no good having pace in your side if you don’t have the technical ability to go alongside it. Although Madrid and Spurs have some of the quickest wide-men in Europe these players are all comfortable with the ball, particularly when running at the opposition. And the similarities don’t end on the wings.
Mixing speed with guile and steel this season is another reason for Spurs’ current likeness to the Spanish giants. Joining the attack and helping create, Madrid’s guile can be provided by Ozil and/or Kaka, whilst upfront the razor-sharp Higuin is now preferred to Benzema. In the same areas, Spurs have very similar players in Modric and van der Vaart, whilst Madrid-reject Adebayor is the preferred choice to Defoe.
Madrid set-up using two holding midfielders but Xabi Alonso is the unique exception to his position, as very few, if any other players could fulfil his role. The steel therefore comes in the form of Khedira, Coentrao (primarily a wide-man) and (defender) Pepe, who’s been specifically used in midfield for certain matches, as a destroyer. Spurs have the impressive and tireless Scott Parker, and can choose from Sandro and Huddlestone to keep things tighter if tactics dictate.
As Real Madrid continue their near-impossible quest to try and peg back what is possibly the greatest club side of all-time, Spurs could well end up challenging for what is a wide-open Premiership title. Playing a similar style to Madrid, all’s that’s missing is a more consistent domination of matches and a winning mentality to beat the other champions elect.
Who knows, maybe soon we’ll refer to Madrid as Spurs-lite, after all, they both wear white.